GROUND CONTROL TO MAJOR TOM

What do you do when you press the Send/Receive button that ships out the beta copy? You write a blog post. Because your fingers are pretty ingrained to be moving across the keys, and because you’re nervous as hell.

Beta reading is a fairly new concept in literature, but a good one. I can name you ten books off the top of my head that would have benefited from one; I plowed through one just this past fall that was richly developed, with deep, resonant characters and near-holographic settings. Too bad it didn’t fucking go anywhere, and that the ending felt stapled on, ruining the entire experience.

That’s what betas do. It’s a thankless task, although I’m usually good about trying to make it worth their while; book swag is a given, and I’m always good for one private-room evening out – usually after the gamma copy is gone to KDP and BN – of drunken debauchery. It’s the least I can do. The job is a critical one, especially for those of us who don’t have a publisher or editor to bounce ideas off of. Beta readers tell you if the plot unfolds too quickly, or too slowly; they tell you if the leaps you hope made sense do, in fact, make sense, or whether they got lost in the funhouse somewhere. 

The trick, of course, is knowing when to beta. Too early, and someone’s going to tell you – candidly – that your book reads like shit. Too late, and you may have grilled to well-done a plot that makes no sense. I think I got my timing right this time, but I suppose I’ll find out.

More than anything, though, the beta stage affords me a few days to clear the baffles, so to speak. You can live with something too long, too intensely, and lose all perspective on it; sometimes, you’ve got to walk away for a while and then come back to it. So I’ll pick things back up on March 1, and hopefully by then the first beta comments will be coming in. 

Until then, I’m exhaling. Getting to this stage is a big deal; it means you’ve built an airplane that should get off the ground and fly, and now you need your preflight check. Nekhet looked like a book to me on my beta prep run.

Hope it looks like a book to my beta group.

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